Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

July Live Evaluation Period Preview: Class of 2018 prospects to watch

Leave a comment

There is good news and bad news when it comes to college basketball recruiting in the Class of 2018.

Beginning with the bad news: there just isn’t a lot of one-and-done starpower at the top of this class — especially when compared to recent star-studded offerings in the Class of 2016 and Class of 2017.

Marvin Bagley III would compete for the No. 1 spot in any year. South Carolina native and bouncy forward Zion Williamson has already amassed a humongous social-media following within this class for his ferocious above-the-rim exploits. 7-foot-3 Bol Bol, the son of former NBA center Manute Bol, has also made a huge push up the national rankings with a ridiculous spring as his combination of interior length and perimeter skill for a big man makes him a very enticing long-term prospect..

There are elite prospects like Bagley, Williamson and Bol, but the real strength of this class comes with the amount of three- and four-year players who should really help improve the quality of college basketball over the next few seasons.

Casual basketball fans might get agitated by the lack of immediate future pros within the Class of 2018. But true fans of the college game should be excited by the amount of talent that (hopefully) stays in the college ranks for a few seasons.

The depth at point guard among the Class of 2018 is particularly promising. While there are no elite stud-level lottery picks among the floor generals at the moment, about one third of the top 35 prospects in the Class of 2018 could conceivably run some point during college.

That makes for nearly a dozen top-40 level prospects who should be able to facilitate and make things better for everyone else around them.

There are going to be a lot of names to keep an eye on over these next three weeks. Here are the 15 high-level prospects to keep tabs on and five guys outside the top 50 who could make for intriguing storylines over the next few weeks.

Marvin Bagley III (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

THE STUDS

Marvin Bagley III: The 6-foot-10 lefty has a chance to be a special talent. Bagley is incredibly gifted athletically to go along with a high degree of overall skill. A double-double machine who averaged 25.8 points and 14.9 rebounds this spring, Bagley is a major difference-maker on both ends of the floor as he’s capable of taking over a game. If Bagley improves his inconsistent perimeter shooting then he would be capable of scoring from all three levels.

Zion Williamson: The YouTube superstar has already racked up millions of views and has an early fan in Drake. It’s also a summer in which the 6-foot-6 Williamson has to re-prove himself a bit on the national stage after missing most of this spring with a minor knee injury. If Williamson is healthy and looks like a young Larry Johnson again, then he could push for No. 1.

Bol Bol: The 7-foot-3 Bol was the major story of the spring as he vaulted into the No. 1 discussion with his strong play in the Nike EYBL. Showing an ability to protect the rim while hitting perimeter shots, Bol has a tantalizing mixture of skills that any level of basketball would crave. How many players can swat 4.5 shots per game and still shoot 48 percent from three-point range (22-for-45)? It’s part of what makes Bol a special prospect. That combination of skills is the most valuable combination of skills in basketball today.

Cameron Reddish: There is no doubting the talent of the 6-foot-7 Reddish, as he’s one of the most gifted playmakers on the perimeter in this class. The major question comes with how Reddish plays the game, as his shot selection and overall intensity can waver from game to game. Inefficient in the EYBL this spring, Reddish shot the ball far better with USA Basketball during the FIBA U19 World Cup over the last few weeks as he looked like the most prepared Class of 2018 prospect who played with the group.

Romeo Langford: A native of Indiana who has been a top-five prospect most of his high school career, this will be an important summer for the 6-foot-4 shooting guard. Langford has the type of talent as a scorer where he can roll for 40 points, but he can just as easily vanish from a game and become too passive. The FIBA U19 World Cup also wasn’t kind for Langford as he battled through a back injury that caused him to miss two games. Langford’s health could be something to watch for this July.

Tre Jones: The younger brother of Tyus Jones also ranks as an elite point guard prospect. The 6-foot-2 Tre doesn’t have his older brother’s look-ahead vision or perimeter shooting ability, but he still led the EYBL in assists as he can run an offense with the best of them at the high school level. A more committed defender than Tyus, Tre has a winning mentality that helped Howard Pulley to one of the best records in the EYBL this spring.

Jordan Brown: Quietly putting together a really good spring on the adidas Gauntlet, the 6-foot-10 Brown averaged 21.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game while shooting 53 percent from the field. A capable post scorer with long arms and good mobility, Brown has a unique scoring package that relies on some unorthodox shots. If Brown can be more consistent with his intensity, then he would be even more intriguing.

Moses Brown: With the Class of 2018 lacking elite big men, Brown has come on strong over the past year to become a top-ten prospect. With elite length that enables him to protect the rim and rebound at a high level, Brown is already a standout on the defensive end, but his offensive game is also opening some eyes. Equipped with good hands and a right hook, Brown has a chance to be a major pro prospect if he can improve his offensive polish at the college level.

Simi Shittu: The MVP of the NBPA Top 100 Camp, Shittu has elevated himself into a potential blueblood recruit this July. Leading Top 100 Camp in scoring and rebounding, Shittu followed up on a very strong spring as he’s been playing at a very high level over the past few months. With the Class of 2018 lacking dominant post players, Shittu’s ability to work on the interior makes him stand out as he’s able to carve space and hit the glass hard.

Immanuel Quickley: An elite point guard prospect with a different type of game than Tre Jones, the 6-foot-3 Quickley has great size and feel for the position. Having played multiple times for USA Basketball the past few summers, Quickley is poised when a defense double teams him and he’s improved a previously-shaky perimeter jumper that is now a reliable weapon. A pick-and-roll maestro, Quickley isn’t an elite athlete, but he’s good enough to make things difficult for opposing guards as a defender.

Darius Garland: The best perimeter shooter of the elite point guards, the 6-foot-0 Garland can splash in jumpers from all over the floor thanks to a deadly pull-up game. Sometimes shot selection can be an issue with Garland — which leads to his shooting percentages fluctuating at times — but he’s also capable of going on hot streaks that can really put a game away. Also no slouch when it comes to running a team, Garland doesn’t have elite size or athleticism, which makes matchups against bigger guards something to watch for.

Louis King: Bursting on the national scene this spring, the 6-foot-8 King went from a fringe five-star prospect into a no-brainer thanks to his advanced scoring acumen. Although King is prone to taking some wild shots from all over the floor, he is also one of the most gifted playmakers from the perimeter in the class as his size and skill enables him to attack smaller wings or blow by bigger forwards.

Reggie Perry: Decommitting from Arkansas just last week, the 6-foot-8 Perry was one of the highest-rated committed prospects in 2018 before opening things up. Now that he’s back on the market, expect college coaches to flock to see the double-double threat as Perry had a very good spring playing in national and international settings. Elevating himself into a five-star prospect, Perry has a a high motor and a good degree of skill and athleticism for a college power forward.

R.J. Barrett: Although not technically a 2018 prospect, yet, there are rumors circulating that Barrett could move from 2019. After dominating the FIBA U19 World Cup and helping Canada to a gold medal, it is easy to see why the 6-foot-7 Barrett would consider college a year earlier. He led the EYBL in scoring this past spring and Barrett has the athleticism and skill on the wing to be a contender for No. 1 in this class. It’ll be fascinating to see how college coaches choose to follow Barrett during July.

Shareef O’Neal: The son of Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal, the Arizona commit doesn’t play like his father, but he has a lot of intriguing upside thanks to his size and athleticism. The 6-foot-9 Shareef appears more comfortable facing up than playing with his back to the basket as he still needs to add strength and some post moves before getting to Tucson. But O’Neal also moves incredibly well for a player his size and he has a lot of room to grow his his skill level.

Bol Bol (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)

FIVE PROSPECTS OUTSIDE THE TOP 50 TO KNOW

Robert Woodard: In his first spring playing in an elite shoe league, the 6-foot-5 Woodard struggled with his perimeter shot (24 percent from three) but he also showed an ability to contribute in other ways. For a perimeter player, Woodard is an elite rebounder, as he was sixth in the EYBL at 10.2 boards per contest while also making impact plays on defense. Woodard averaged 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks per game as his long arms and athleticism enable him to be a monster on that end of the floor. Once Woodard figures out his offensive game, he could be a major factor.

Luther Muhammad: A tenacious defender who can also score from the perimeter, the 6-foot-3 Muhammad could be an effective “three-and-d” player at the college level. Although Muhammad is prone to some wild play and bad shots, he shot 39 percent from three-point range in EYBL play while also showing a willingness to defend anyone in the league. Muhammad’s effort and intensity can be infectious at times and he’s also a solid passer who can find the open man.

Eric Ayala: The intrigue surrounding the 6-foot-3 Ayala this summer is his looming decision about which class to enter. Because Ayala graduated high school already, he has the option to enter the Class of 2017 this fall if he would like. Ayala may also decide to do a postgraduate year if he doesn’t feel like he’s ready for college in a few months. Either way, he’s a coveted four-star prospect who will draw a lot of attention from coaches the next few weeks.

Bryan Penn-Johnson: There aren’t many proven post players in the Class of 2018, which makes the late-blooming Penn-Johnson an appealing July target. The 7-footer has never played a minute of varsity basketball, but he’s become a high-major target thanks to his shot-blocking and ability to run the floor. Hoop Seen’s Justin Young believes Penn-Johnson has some similarities to former Lakers big man Andrew Bynum back when he was in high school.

Alex Lomax: One of the toughest lead guards in the class, the Memphis native will do whatever it takes to win. The 5-foot-11 Lomax has to figure out how to be more effective as a scorer for the next level, but he does everything else you’d want from a point guard on both ends of the floor. Lomax was second in the EYBL in steals per game to go along with a solid assist-to-turnover ratio (4.1-to-1.8 this spring) in helping Team Penny to another Peach Jam

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
4 Comments

INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
7 Comments

LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

Getty Images
4 Comments

The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.